Unless tests for immunologic implantation dysfunction (IID) immunologic implantation dysfunction are performed correctly and conducted by a one of the few reliable reproductive immunology reference laboratory in the United States, treatment will likely be unsuccessful. . In this regard it is most important that the right tests be ordered and that these be performed by a competent laboratory. There are in my opinion only a handful of Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the world that can perform all these tests with optimal reliability….and most are in the U.S.A ( I personally recommend Reproductive Immunology Associates -RIA, located in Van Nuys, CA and Reprosource in Boston, MA, preferentially). Also, it is my opinion that far too often, testing is inappropriate with the many redundant and incorrect tests being requested from and conducted by sub optimal laboratories. Finally for treatment to have the best chance of being successful, it is vital that the underlying type of IID (autoimmune IID versus alloimmune) be identified correctly and that the type, dosage, concentration and timing of treatments be carefully devised and implemented.
Who Should Undergo IID testing?
When it comes to who should be evaluated, the following conditions should in always raise a suspicion of an underlying IID, and trigger prompt testing:
- A diagnosis of endometriosis or the existence of symptoms suggestive of endometriosis (heavy/painful menstruation and pain with ovulation or with deep penetration during intercourse) I would however emphasize that a definitive diagnosis of endometriosis requires visualization of the lesions at laparoscopy or laparotomy)
- A personal or family history of autoimmune disease such as hyper/hypothyroidism (as those with elevated or depressed TSH blood levels, regardless of thyroid hormonal dysfunction), Lupus erythematosus, Rheumatoid arthritis, dermatomyositis, scleroderma etc.)
- “Unexplained” infertility
- Recurrent pregnancy loss (RPL)
- A history of having miscarried a conceptus that, upon testing of products of conception, was found to have a normal numerical chromosomal configuration (euploid).
- Unexplained IVF failure
- “Unexplained” intrauterine growth retardation due to placental insufficiency or late pregnancy loss of a chromosomally normal baby
What Parameters should be tested?
In my opinion, too many Reproductive Immunologists unnecessarily unload a barrage of costly IID tests on unsuspecting patients. In most cases the initial test should be for NK cell activation, and only if this is positive, is it necessary to expand the testing.
The parameters that require measurement include:
o For Autoimmune Implantation Dysfunction: Autoimmune implantation dysfunction, most commonly presents with presumed “infertility” due to such early pregnancy losses that the woman did not even know she was pregnant in the first place. Sometimes there as an early miscarriage. Tests required are: a) blood levels of all IgA, IgG and IgM-related antiphospholipid antibodies (APA’s) directed against six or seven specific phospholipids, b) both antithyroid antibodies (antithyroid and antimicrosomal antibodies), c) a comprehensive reproductive immunophenotype (RIP) and, c) most importantly, assessment of Natural Killer (NK) cell activity (rather than concentration) by measuring by their killing, using the K-562 target cell test and/or uterine cytokine measurement. As far as the ideal environment for performing such tests, it is important to recognize that currently there are only about 5 or 6, Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories in the U.S capable of reliably analyzing the required elements with a sufficient degree of sensitivity and specificity (in my opinion).
o For Alloimmune implantation Dysfunction: While alloimmune Implantation usually presents with a history of unexplained (usually repeated) miscarriages or secondary infertility (where the woman conceived initially and thereupon was either unable to conceive started having repeated miscarriages it can also present as “presumed” primary infertility. Alloimmune dysfunction is diagnosed by testing the blood of both the male and female partners for matching DQ alpha genes and NK/CTL activation. It is important to note that any DQ alpha match (partial or complete) will only result in IID when there is concomitant NK/CTL activation (see elsewhere on this blog).
How should results be interpreted?
Central to making a diagnosis of an immunologic implantation dysfunction is the appropriate interpretation of natural killer cell activity (NKa) .In this regard, one of the commonest and most serious errors, is to regard the blood concentration of natural killer cells as being significant. Rather it is the activity (toxicity) of NK cells that matters as mentioned. Then there is the interpretation of reported results. The most important consideration is the percentage of target cells “killed” in the “native state”. In most cases a level of >10% killing should be regarded with suspicion and >12% overtly abnormal. In my opinion, trying to interpret the effect of adding IVIG or Intralipid to the sample in order assess whether and to what degree the use of these products would have a therapeutic benefit is seriously flawed and of little benefit. Clinically relevant NK cell deactivation can only be significantly effected in vivo and takes more than a week following infusion to occur. Thus what happens in the laboratory by adding these products to the sample prior to K-562 target cell testing is in my opinion likely irrelevant.
There exists a pervasive but blatant misconception on the part of many, that the addition of Intralipid (IL) /immunoglobulin-G IVIG) can have an immediate down-regulatory effect on NK cell activity. This has established a demand that Reproductive Immunology Reference Laboratories report on NK cell activity before and following exposure to IVIG and/or IL. However, the fact is that activated “functional” NK cells (NKa) cannot be deactivated in the laboratory. Effective down-regulation of activated NK cells can only be adequately accomplished if their activated “progenitor/parental” NK cells are first down-regulated. Thereupon once these down-regulated “precursor” NK cells are exposed to progesterone, they will begin spawning normal and functional NK cells, which takes about 10-14 days. It follows that to assess for a therapeutic response to IVIG/IL therapy would require that the patient first be treated (10-14 days prior to embryo transfer) and thereupon, about 2 weeks later, be retested. While at 1st glance this might seem to be a reasonable approach, in reality it would be of little clinical benefit because even if blood were to be drawn 10 -14 days after IL/IVIG treatment it would require an additional 10 days to receive results from the laboratory, by which time it would be far too late to be of practical advantage.
Neither IVIG nor IL is capable of significantly suppressing already activated “functional NK cells”. For this to happen, the IL/IVIG would have to down-regulate progenitor (parent) NK cell” activity. Thus, it should be infused 10-14 several prior to ovulation or progesterone administration so that the down-regulated “progenitor/precursor” NK cells” can propagate a sufficient number of normally regulated “functional NK cell” to be present at the implantation site 7 days later. In addition, to be effective, IL/IVIG therapy needs to be combined with steroid (dexamethasone/prednisone/prednisolone) therapy to down-regulates (often) concomitantly activated T-cells.